Labour MP Deborah Russell clashes with Speak Up For Women over bid to only allow sex self-ID for transgender men

A Labour MP has clashed with a women's group over their support for transgender men to access sex self-identification but not trans women, over fears of "retained male patterns of violence". 

Beth Johnson, a spokesperson for the controversial group Speak Up For Women, was one of several submitters on Wednesday to speak on the proposed Births, Deaths, Marriages and Relationships Registration Bill (BDMRR Bill).

Under the proposed law, people would be allowed to change the sex on their birth certificate based on how they identify themselves, removing the need for medical evidence of a sex change. 

At present, anyone wanting to change the sex on their birth certificate needs "medical evidence" and to apply through the Family Court. Changing that to a simple statutory declaration - the current process for changing it on a driver's licence or passport - is on the cards. 

Johnson, who said Speak Up For Women has hundreds of active members and thousands of supporters, said cis women - women whose gender identity matches their sex assigned at birth -should not have to share changing rooms with trans men. 

"Does the Government believe that people with a penis should have the right to undress in front of young girls? This Bill sends the message that it does. We, however, believe that bodies sometimes matter more than identities."

Labour MP Deborah Russell disputed the level of support Speak Up For Women has, asking Johnson "on what basis" she could claim hundreds of supporters and thousands of members. 

"You claim that you're representing New Zealand women," Russell said. 

"We have a private discussion group on Facebook and we have over 200 engaged members in that discussion group who help with our campaigning," Johnson shot back.

"When I say we have thousands of supporters, that's based on over 5000 social media followers, that's based on our distribution list, that's based on the number of donations coming in.

"I don't see why that's irrelevant Deborah, are you trying to say that what we've said is irrelevant? Could you address the content of what we've said and not who we are?"

Russell asked Johnson if she would support only allowing transgender men to sex self-identify, since her concerns centered on transgender women accessing cis women's services. 

"That's a fascinating question. There's evidence that transitioned males who have transitioned to females retain male patterns of violence. That's not to say they're more violent than other males but they are more violent than females," Johnson said, without citing the evidence. 

"Our focus has been on protecting the rights of women and girls, so I guess, off the fly, yes I would say absolutely... Off the top of my head Deborah, I cannot see any negative impact on the rights of women and girls if you allow that, so yes."

Speak Up For Women was formed in 2018 in opposition to the sex self-identification proposals, over fears it would erode the rights of women to access single-sex services. They maintain they are not anti-transgender. 

"At the heart of this Bill is a contradiction. The Government states that this Bill will not impact the existing rights to single-sex services, but at the same time says this change is necessary to enable transgender people to access services without being outed," Johnson said in her submission. 

"That's the contradiction, because if a male person uses an altered birth certificate to gain entrance to, for example, to a girl's school without being outed, then they've gained entrance by subterfuge. 

"This undermines the rights of girls at the school as well as the right of the school to provide a single-sex service."

Green MP Dr Elizabeth Kerekere, an LGBTQI+ advocate, said Speak Up For Women wouldn't face accusations of being anti-trans if they respected the wishes of trans people not to be referred to by the sex they were assinged at birth. 

"Reading your materials is always interesting because I would say as a general rule if you don't want to be accused of transphobia, perhaps don't say transphobic things."

She also reminded Johnson that under the Education and Training Act, single-sex schools are allowed to accept students of the opposite sex.